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Narrative

The Growing Significance Of Narrative, The Structure Of Stories, Applications To Aging

Narrative can be situated within the range of speech acts that comprise ordinary communication. At one end, there are relatively brief communications, such as token conversational responses like "umm" or "uh-huh" or short descriptive statements like "I've felt that way all my life." At the other end, where narrative is situated, are more extended and complex commentaries, such as full-blown life stories or the frames of reference that researchers themselves use to analyze narrative material (Linde; Gubrium and Holstein; McAdams; Riessman). Harvey Sacks, a pioneer of conversation analysis, characterized narrative or storytelling as an extended turn at talk or a relatively lengthy speech act (see Silverman).

A distinguishing feature of research on ordinary communication is that it centers on naturally occurring speech, as it is conveyed in subjects' own words. For example, if the subject is the aging World War II veteran, the veteran's own responses to the war experience is of central concern, not, for example, contemporary front-line journalists' accounts of the soldier's experience or a spouse's reports about her husband's thoughts and feelings in the course of battle. What others say about the subject's experience, how they describe the subject's world, and the explanations they offer for his or her sentiments and conduct are of secondary interest.

The subject is not always a single category of individual. The focus of attention may center on narratives of any and all who subsequently commented on the war experience, which would include the soldier himself, significant others, and journalists' remarks, among those whose narratives served to communicate what it was like to be in and survive the war. The subject might be extended to include the narratives of veterans of other wars, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars, perhaps aiming to document comparatively how public sentiments surrounding war affect the way soldiers communicate their identities and fighting aims (see Hynes). Whoever the subject is and however extended this is categorically, the goal of narrative analysis is to focus attention on subjects' own accounts.

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